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Rome A Million Degrees


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By Christian from Canada, Summer 2003
Rome for a Week, Venice for nine days, with a couple of day trips.

This trip report was originally posted on SlowTrav.com.

Background Info​

A million degrees

Let me collect my thoughts. It was two years ago, after all. Strangely though, I remember most, if not all of it, and since I took some notes and hundreds of photos, it shouldn’t be too hard. I was almost done writing this trip report two years ago but lost it after my computer crashed. Argh! This time I will save it to disk! Anyway, I should also point out that English is not my mother tongue, so excusez-moi if the writing is odd at times. I’m told that I write the way I speak. I don’t even know what that means!

So let me first give you some background information: back in the summer of 2002, my partner and I decided to go to Europe for the first time. Our first choice was Florence. Period. We made it our base, which allowed us to easily go on a couple of day trips to a few Tuscan towns and up to Venice. Our best friend came along and it was a wonderful trip, with wonderful weather, wonderful food, wonderful everything. SO wonderful in fact, that my partner and I decided to go again the following summer, in 2003. Yes, summer 2003, during THE heat wave that Europeans are still talking about! And those who know a little bit about wine can confirm that the Summer 2003 heat wave produced exceptional wines that are just now starting to hit the market.

But I digress.

Our plan this time was to explore further south and visit Rome for a week, after which we would take the train to Venice and stay there for another week. The previous year, we had only gone on a 36-hour excursion to Venice and were so enchanted by the city that we swore we would return and stay for a full week. Personally, I would stay for a lifetime, but can’t afford to. Besides, I would miss The West Wing.

I should also mention that the heat really was unbelievable. We can seriously say that we have never, ever experienced hot weather as intense anywhere, at any time in our entire lives. We drank water like never before at the rate of several bottles per day. No wonder Rome has a fountain every 10 feet! We also made sure we had bottled water in the freezer. We’d grab a frozen bottle on our way out and by mid-morning, the ice had melted.

Day One: Getting There​

I wish I could say it was easy and uneventful! You might remember that 2003 was the year we first started hearing about SARS. Well guess what, we were leaving from…Toronto! At the peak of the SARS “epidemic”, the World Health Organization put the city of Toronto on a travel advisory list and the Press sensationalized the issue, seriously crippling our tourism industry for several months after the crisis ended. The way the situation was reported on television was ludicrous. The media led the world to believe that the streets of Toronto were full of people wearing masks. I live and work in downtown Toronto and can attest to the fact that it simply did not happen that way. The situation was serious, yes, but let’s not go nuts!

Anyway, when we got to Pearson International Airport and the staff there was handing out pink forms that outbound travelers had to complete. We went to the Air France check-in counter and presented our forms to the extremely pretty and very French young attendant. She took the forms, checked our luggage and that was that. The flight itself was fine and we were able to sleep several hours, the food was as great as it always is with Air France and we landed in Paris around 7:30am. Our connecting flight to Rome was about 2 hours later so we checked out the shops at Charles de Gaulle, that insanely vast airport.

But really.

Our connecting flight on Alitalia was fine until 20 minutes before we landed in Rome. That’s when the flight attendant started going down the aisle holding a stack of forms and a list of all the passengers that were coming from Toronto. The forms she handed us were from the Italian Health Department and we were required to list any illnesses we may have and declare if we had been in contact with anyone who was diagnosed with SARS! A few minutes later, there was an announcement on the PA system: “after we land, we ask that everyone remains seated and that travelers originating from Toronto move to the front of the plane”! So we did, all nine of us! They kept us there, at the front of the plane, while all other passengers walked by our little group of embarrassed Torontonians on their way out, probably holding their breath so they wouldn’t catch anything... Only once everyone else had gotten off the plane were we told that an “official” from the Italian government was on his way to meet with us. I thought: cool! Maybe he’ll bring us gelato! So we waited and waited. And waited. No one showed up. No gelato. We were then told that the “official” was not coming after all and that we were “free to go, have a pleasant stay in Italy”!

We quickly got outta there before they changed their minds!

At that point, we were slightly stressed out, tired and hungry. It was at least a million degrees in Rome and although we had planned on taking the train to the city from FCO, we decided to hail a cab. We found an extremely beautiful young lady who hesitantly agreed to take us to Campo Dei Fiori for 40 euro. We were later told that it was a tad excessive. I dunno. The ride was rather interesting. You wouldn’t believe how fast our taxi was going! She passed every other car, drove on the shoulder several times and continued to talk on her cell phone while occasionally pointing at Roman landmarks for our benefit! I’m sure there is still an imprint of my hands on the back seat of her car!

We made it in one piece and she abruptly stopped the car right in the middle of Campo dei Fiori where the merchants were disassembling their food stands after the morning market, before the mid-afternoon heat turned everything to mush. We quickly found Via dei Cappellari, where our apartment was, just off of the Campo and Tim Pearson from Real Rome was waiting for us. Tim is very friendly and made us feel welcome right away. The apartment, small but very clean and well equipped – including a washing machine – was exactly what we required for a week in Rome, most of all for its amazing location. For seven nights, the cost of the rental was 650 euro (in 2003). I just checked their website and it has remained the same. I would recommend this apartment if you are not a light sleeper as it is not a quiet area (but since we live downtown Toronto, we’re used to noise!). The apartment is fine for a couple and the proximity to the daily morning market at Campo dei Fiori makes it ideal for those who prefer to go home for a quick bite rather than spend a fortune in restaurants. Plus, as I always say, there’s nothing like cooking Italian food, in Italy, using fresh Italian ingredients!

After unpacking and freshening up, we decided to go for a quick snack. Hey, how about gelato! Well, since we didn’t get any at the airport, why not? So we simply walked back towards Campo dei Fiori and had some at one of the shops around the Campo after which we headed towards a grocery store nearby that Tim had suggested for some basics (milk, water, butter etc). We carried everything home and rested for a bit before we headed back out. We agreed that because of jetlag, we wouldn’t do anything too wild so we’d be in top shape for the next day.

After a quick bite (if I remember correctly, we just grabbed a sandwich at “Aristocampo” on Campo dei Fiori and thought it was absolutely fantastic!), we then headed towards Piazza Navona. It was around 7:30pm and the sky was still bright. Although we had seen photos of Piazza Navona, we were really impressed by the sheer size of it all. After a while, we came to realize that everything is Rome seems to be oversized! Statues, fountains, public places…everything is so BIG! This grand Piazza would become one of our “last stops” before heading home for the night. Actually, we had three “last stops” every evening: Piazza della Rotunda, Piazza Navona and Campo dei Fiori.

Anyway, after going around Piazza Navona a couple of times and admiring the extraordinary Bernini fountains and the façade of St Agnes in Agony (which was always closed when we wanted to visit it and ended up doing later in the week), we headed back to Campo dei Fiori which was quite busy and we didn’t know why! We found out that Campo dei Fiori, which is very much alive in the morning because of its market, sorta dies down in the afternoon only to resurrect at dusk, when the yellow electric lights welcome back the locals who come here just to hang out. They come here, meet with their friends, chat for a while, have a drink on a patio or a beer purchased at a store nearby and sit at the foot of Giordano Bruno’s statue or on the curb. People-watching at this point becomes wonderful; the crowd is sexy, mischievous, alive. They are young, confident, well dressed and playful. How many times did we hear some handsome twenty-something Italian boy shout a flirtatious and musical “Hey Bellllllla!” to pretty young ladies walking by! Try that on this side of the pond and see how many fingers she’ll point at you.

Exhausted, we came home, turned the fan on to “max”, which was hardly enough, had a drink and got the map and the travel book to decide what our itinerary would be the following day.

Day Two: A Long, Long Walk​

Funny how little we sleep when we’re on vacation. We were up by 7:00 most days so we could explore, visit, admire, eat and walk as much as possible. We started our second day with our usual “cappuccino e cornetti.” Italians make by far the best coffee. Coffee-lovers that we are, we would usually stop here and there at any time of the day to have a cappuccino, usually 4-5 times a day. It’s clear to me that in Italy, no matter where you go, even the filthiest hole-in-the-wall, the coffee is always exceptional (except in Venice, but I’ll whine about that later).

So off we went. Our plans included several churches in the neighborhood and eventually lead us to the Trevi Fountain. This is the way we like to sightsee: we pick a “major” sight and then, with the use of a map, we figure out a way to get there so that we’ll hit several other things on the way. Sometimes it makes us retrace our steps but it works quite well for us and sometimes also allows us to discover other things of interest. And cool shops.

Anyway, even though we had already had our first cappuccino, we got to the Pantheon and realized that Tazza D’Oro was right there, waiting for us! So we had cappuccino No. 2, as perfect as expected and went to visit the Pantheon. Rather impressive, don’t you think? I mean, this building is still standing after two thousand years! It’s also really beautiful inside and we did go back for a minute a couple of more times during the week. The idea was to see it at different times of day, when the sun goes through the oculus at different angle. We took several photos of both the interior and the exterior. Of course, like many monuments in Italy, you never quite have enough room to move back and take the whole thing. You know, like trying to photograph the Duomo in Florence without the help of a wide-angle lens or without having to bulldoze five city blocks first.

We eventually found ourselves in the small Piazza Minerva where stands Bernini’s elephant. After walking around a few times, we entered the magnificent Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, with its vibrant blue and gold vaulted ceiling. It contains, among other things, a pretty good Michelangelo work, Christ Bearing The Cross. Ok, I don’t know if it’s correct to describe Michelangelo’s works as “pretty good”, but you know what I mean. Also, can someone explain to me why St.Catherine of Siena’s body rests here while her head is in Siena?

We kept walking till we found Largo di Torre Argentina, the ruins of old roman temples that were excavated here and that now shelters many cats. Some quick googling taught me that there are as many as 250 but because of the heat, I suppose, we didn’t see them all. I wanted to throw a little mouse down there to see what happens, but I didn’t have one on me.

Still on the way to the Fountain of Trevi, we did manage to visit several other churches, including the beautiful Sant’Andrea delle Valle and Sant’Ignazio di Loyola, with its unbelievable “trompe l’oeil” ceiling, similar in technique to Venice’s Chiesa di San Pantalon which we would see the following week.

I should mention here that I couldn’t possibly go into details when describing the art we saw in all the churches and cathedrals we visited simply because we visited 63 of them. If I did, this trip report would take a week to read! Of course, here and there we came across a painting, a sculpture, a statue, mosaics, something that was really special and that we will always remember.

Anyway, my notes indicate that we also went to Piazza della Colonna that day and finally ended up at the Fountain of Trevi. Very impressive, but the crowd makes it difficult to enjoy what we’re there for. Next time we’re in Rome, we would like to go back very early in the morning when it’s quiet. Regardless, we stayed for a while, and then went to the famous San Crispino for glorious gelato. One of them was “Pear & Ginger”. We still talk about it. And about the guy who served us both times we went, whose attitude and unfriendliness forced us to nickname him “the gelato Nazi”.

We walked a lot every day, and I mean a lllot. So we continued on to Via Condotti and the Spanish Steps, another cool example of what great urban planning can accomplish. We stayed for a while and went up the steps to the top, where the view of Rome is quite good. The church of Trinita Dei Monti was closed by the time we reached the top of the Steps so we took some photos and walked back down where we took a break to phone home and grab something to eat, not far from there. That’s where I had the best pizza in Rome but sadly, I don’t remember what it’s called and I didn’t write it down! We also did some shopping in the neighborhood of the Spanish Steps.

As if we hadn’t walked enough that day, we decided to go check out Piazza del Popolo. I was curious about the “twin churches”, Santa Maria dei Miracoli and Santa Maria in Montesanto, and I must say that their exterior did not disappoint me. We couldn’t go in because they were both closed. I wondered, with so many churches in one city, how does one chooses where to go for Sunday mass, let alone in a neighborhood where there are two of them side by side! Piazza del Popolo is huge. We took a walk around to see at everything is has to offer, from the twin churches to the several gigantic statues and the “lion” fountains, the Porta del Popolo. Oh, and the much more interesting church of Santa Maria del popolo, with it’s Bernini, Raphael and Caravaggio masterpieces. I assume Piazza del Popolo is often used for concerts and public events and that would explain why a stage was being built for the Alanis Morissette concert that was scheduled for the weekend. It’s certainly a big enough piazza and a beautiful venue for a rock concert.

We then looked at the map and realized that we were not far from the Tiber where we were hoping it would be windier and the air fresher. Fat chance! We crossed the bridge anyway (Ponte Regina Margherita) and decided to head home by following the riverside till we reached Ponte Sant’Angelo and continued to Campo dei Fiori. Well, I told you we had walked a lot. It was a pleasant walk, though. We came across a small outdoors craft sale, continued on, had a cold drink by the river and admired the gigantic and austere Palazzo di Guistizia for a few minutes, till we finally reached Castel Sant’Angelo and got our first glance at St. Peters up close, more or less. We were not really interested in seeing Castel Sant’Angelo and frankly, I can’t see where we would have found the strength. So instead, we checked out Bernini’s angels on the gracious Ponte Sant’Angelo (wow!) and headed home. That day, after a cool shower and a light dinner, we took it easy, had gelato at Blue Ice, went for a stroll through Piazza Navona before getting our daily dose of Campo-dei-Fiori-at-night. Sleep, that night, came easily.

Day Three: When in Rome...Buy Tomatoes!​

On Monday morning, we decided to go to the Market. Since Campo dei Fiori was about 40 steps from our door, it hardly required months of detailed planning to get to it. Plus, we needed food. The experience was pretty similar to any other market, I suppose, except for the fact that Italian merchants will not let you touch anything. We bought Buffalo Mozzarella, several kinds of sausages (including yummy wild boar), huge olives, peaches, fresh basil and tomatoes. I am a huge fan of tomatoes. I get that from my grandma, on my mom’s side. Never in my life have I tasted better tomatoes than the ones we bought at Campo dei Fiori. So good, in fact, that we actually purchased tomatoes seeds, right there, right then, so we could bring them home and try to grow them ourselves. You think it worked? Nah! Oh sure, we did grow tomatoes the following summer, but they were still not as good as the ones we had in Italy. What do they do? How do they do it? Is it the soil? Is it the climate? Is it me?

Anyway, we went back home, 40 steps away, dropped everything off, got our bottles out of the freezer and off we went. Today, our plan was to walk all the way to the train station to get our tickets for Venice and do a little sightseeing on the way there and back. So our first sight was the Vittorio Emmanuel Monument, a.k.a. the Wedding Cake a.k.a. the Typewriter etc. I know Romans hate it, but I actually don’t think it’s THAT ugly. Pretentious, yes, but not ugly. The problem is that it sticks out like a sore thumb. We found crossing the streets in that area to be a much bigger problem. Pedestrians have to run like mad fools and there are not enough lights, especially on the street directly in front of the Monument. I have no clue how the chicken crossed THAT road, let alone why.

Not far from there, we had a look at the Trajan Market with some indifference. You see, we only have a limited interest in “ruins”! But wait, you’ll be even more outraged when I tell you that we didn’t visit the Coliseum!!!

I dunno, it’s just that we prefer museums and churches to piles of rock, no matter their historical value. We prefer life to death. We prefer The Simpsons to The Flintstones. We prefer a market where we can buy the world’s best tomatoes to one where everything is nothing but old dusty stones and columns on the verge of collapsing! It’s all a matter of preference, really.

Anyway, from the rock market (a.k.a. the Trajan Market,) we reached the rock garden (a.k.a. the Forum) and the rock Stadium (a.k.a. the Coliseum). Oh, we did take a walk through the Forum. There are great photos to be taken there for sure, especially the Arch of Constantine. She’s a beauty!

I really must admit that the Coliseum is a fantastic building. It’s one of those landmarks that we’ve seen a million times on photographs in the media, but it’s much more impressive in person. It’s still in pretty good shape and it’s a shame about the traffic around it that will likely cause its eventual demise.

Ruined ruins…

After our little rocky excursion, we continued on and found the weirdly located Fontana dell’Acqua Felice (the Moses Fountain), one we thought was kind of ugly and that was really due for a major cleaning job. We finally made it to Termini Station where we purchased our train tickets for our upcoming visit to Venice. The lineups were long, so we purchased our tickets successfully out of a machine. We then looked for a place for something to eat and found this little unpretentious place for decent pizza, not far from Santa Maria Maggiore, which we visited next.

As Rome’s principal church dedicated to Mary, it’s really a masterpiece on many levels. And it’s huge! We took the time to admire its grand façade and its beautiful Romanesque bell tower before entering. We then were very impressed by its breathtaking interior with its amazing gilded ceiling and the mosaic floor, as we slowly approached the magnificent baldachin. This church is a definite must-see for anyone visiting Rome.

We ended the sightseeing part of our day in the Piazza della Republica area and of course took several photos of the playful Fontana dei Naiadi. Of course, to get closer, you have to cross the street as furious traffic comes in every direction. Not for from there, across the street in fact, is a most unusual church. From a distance, it looks like a building in the process of being demolished. I later learned that the church, Santa Maria degli Angeli, was actually built among the ruins of the Baths of Diocletian. Well, now that’s a fine way to recycle ruins! Michelangelo apparently designed the church a year before he died and the project was finished by one of his pupils.

By the time we got out of there, it was late afternoon and we decided to slowly head home. Of course, we didn’t want to retrace our steps so we took a different route. Remember: that’s the best way to find cool stuff by accident!

We made it home, had a light dinner, cleaned up and went back out. I mean come on, there’s always room for gelato, right? There’s a gelato place right next to the Pantheon that quickly became my favorites. It has a terrible name, “Cremeria”, but they have a “Chocolate Mousse” gelato. It’s rich and delicious and sort of “airy”, like mousse, so less dense than gelato. We went there several times during the week. Not far from there is the “other” famous café, Sant’Eustachio, which of course, we nicknamed San Pistachio. We also went there several times, including that night, to wash down that chocolate mousse gelato thingy, checking out the deer head on the rooftop. You had to be there.

Back home, the usual route: Piazza della Rotunda, Piazza Navona, Campo dei Fiori. And straight to bed.

Day Four: John Paul's House​

We left right after our usual cappuccino e cornetti. To get to Saint Peters; we had a choice between two or three bridges to cross the Tiber. We chose Ponte Sisto because on the map, it looked like it was the closest and also because we thought we’d find other great stuff on the way there. Good call. We came across the delightful Piazza dell’Orologio, with it’s unique and delicate tower which doesn’t belong to a church, but to an art school, if I’m not mistaken, but don’t quote me on that. This quaint neighborhood reminds me of the 70’s TV commercials for Chef Boyardee. Further on we found another gorgeous little church, Santa Maria in Vallicella, which is conveniently located close to the Oratorio del Borromini, both allowing visitors in the morning. That visit, along with a quick one made at the tiny but beautiful Chiesa di S.Pio X across the river, made us realize the importance of entering little known churches or the ones that look like nothing from the outside. Often, they reveal much splendor once you enter.

We eventually made it to Saint Peters and had decided in advance to visit the Vatican Museums before the Basilica. It makes sense. So we went directly to the lineup and it took about 20 minutes for us to reach the entrance. The problem with this museum is that the first time visitor is anxious to see the Sistine Chapel! To make things worse, all the way to the Sistine Chapel, there are signs that say “this way” when in fact, you’re nowhere near the Chapel. Very misleading, sort of like in Venice, when you see a sign that’s says “Rialto” with an arrow pointing straight ahead. All this to say that there is a lot to see in there and some exquisite masterpieces, but you really came to see the Sistine Chapel, already. So, first time visitors that we were, we probably overlooked many things in order to get to the Chapel, although I fondly remember the Map Gallery and the Raphael Room.

When we finally reached it, we realized that about 300 people had had the same idea. Not very cozy. So we looked up, admired Michelangelo’s ultimate masterpiece until our necks were on fire, careful not to step on anyone’s foot and keeping our voices down, as the guard who kept shushing the crowd kept reminded us. It IS a chapel, after all. The experience was divine nonetheless, but I wish I could go back and be all alone in there, lie on the ground and take my time to absorb everything. You think they’d let me?

We were in and out in a matter of an hour, roughly and next time we go, we will definitely take more time to see the rest of the treasures.

Next was a biggie. I mean, nothing I can say about Saint Peters Basilica is an overstatement. On the other hand, it almost feels like seeing a movie that everyone is talking about and because everyone is talking about it, once you finally see it, you find the movie just okay. Oh, don’t get me wrong, Saint Peters is incredible, absolutely incredible, but somehow, I already knew that. I knew what to expect. I still enjoyed my visit immensely! The Pieta looks so tiny and so out of reach behind its bulletproof glass wall. Michelangelo’s Dome is so, so very beautiful as is Bernini’s impressive Baldachin. The art in there is breathtaking and present everywhere, wall to all, floor to ceiling. We spent about 90 minutes at Saint Peters and I’m sure we could have spent several hours. We took many photos and left, but not before visiting the gift shop and sending the obligatory postcards “with the Vatican stamp”! We then sat down for a while, admiring Bernini’s colonnade, stretched out like two long arms inviting us all to this amazing place.

We had thought that our visit to Saint Peters would take a good part of the day but it really didn’t. So here we were, around 1:00pm in the middle of Piazza San Pietro with lots of time on our hands and no definite plan. So we thought that since we were on the other side of the river, why not go check out Trastevere?

It was another hot day and the streets of Trastevere were very quiet. We really loved that part of Rome; for its narrow streets, its old building and all, but mostly because unlike the Centro Historico, this is a real neighborhood, where Romans actually live and work. It’s much less noisy and crowded than the more touristy parts of Rome, while still being fairly close to the major attractions. The atmosphere was very pleasant and we decided to stop for a bite to eat. We found a place called La Scala, which has a patio in the shade and we ordered two 1.5 liters of water as soon as we sat down, before even looking at the menu. I’m not kidding. The restaurant was very quiet in early afternoon and the food was excellent. Their business cards state “bierreria-pizzeria-pub-live music-disco bar”, so I suppose it’s a lively and happening place in the evening. After lunch, only a few buildings down the road, we bought postcards and a couple of bottles of water. We then found Santa Maria in Trastevere, a magnificent old church that contains mosaics of great beauty. This is another must-see, when in Rome.

Later, we also found the church of San Francesco a Ripa, one that we really wanted to visit so we could see one of Bernini’s great sculptures, Beata Ludovica Albertoni. We found the church down the road and were shocked to find a building that looks like it’s going to collapse any minute, now. We went in before it did and quickly found what we were looking for. Bernini’s masterpiece certainly is awesome and remains one of my favorites, but how can it be displayed amongst such decay?

That afternoon, we also visited several other churches in the area including Santa Cecilia in Trastevere. Since our lunch break had given us a second wind, we continued exploring and ended up by the river, more precisely on Isola Tiberina. We paused for a couple of minutes to look at Ponte Rotto, remnants of a 2000 year old bridge and then went to visit the island’s church, San Bartolomeo. After some great gelato nearby, we continued on and came across more ruined thingies (or thingies in ruins), the well preserved Templi del Foro Boario, Tempio de Vestia and the massive Arco di Giano. Still with me? I get all this information from my notes and I’m beginning to hope that they’re accurate.

Anyway, not far from all this is the Church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin. The first thing we noticed was the unusual bell tower, possibly one of the most beautiful we saw, with its seven stories of arches, all brickwork, looking oddly delicate and menacing at the same time. We also went to put our hands in the famous Bocca della Verita but nothing bad happened to us. I was hoping for some guy’s hand to get like, totally chewed up, but it didn’t happen that day. Funny though, how kids are scared to death of that thing!

We would have loved to keep going, but there’s a limit to how much we can walk. You know you just gotta stop when your blisters have blisters. Besides, it had been a long, very full and wonderful day. All we wanted to do was have dinner at home (Insalata Caprese e pasta Putanesca, with fresh ingredients from the Market, of course), shower, change and go back out for some gelato nearby before going for our version of the Passeggietta.

Day Five: Bernini Day​

After our morning cappuccino, we returned to Campo dei Fiori to get more fresh food. Not a lot, just enough for a couple of days. Today, we had Bernini on our agenda. It’s actually easy since his work is all over Rome, but we still wanted to visit the Borghese Gallery and check out some of our favorites. But first, we had a couple of churches to visit.

Our first stop was the absolutely incredible church of Sant’Andrea al Quirinale, designed by Bernini and considered by many as a jewel of the Baroque era. I’ll say! Its rich marble and stucco interior blew us away, as did the magnificent dome, surrounded by small windows that add an interesting lighting effect to the entire place.

Literally next-door is another jewel, Borromini’s Church of San Carlo alla Quattro Fontane with its beautiful undulating façade, white oval interior and amazing geometrical dome. Everything is so white in there that you’d think you’re standing in a brand new construction. It’s quite small and delightful and very impressive. Just outside, each of the Four Fountains, or Quatro Fontane stands at the corner of a very busy intersection. They did not really impress me and taking pictures is practically impossible due to traffic, so we walked on and found Via Veneto. Although probably not as busy as it was in its glory days, it’s still fun to walk down that large boulevard. We then found Piazza Barberini where we photographed the Fontana dell Api, yet another Bernini, and refilled our empty bottles with some of its fresh water. We found a restaurant named Il Fammilero Strano which has a shady patio and decided to stop and eat before hitting the Borghese Gallery. The food was decent and reasonably priced and I remember a Frenchman at the next table pouring an absurd quantity of olive oil over his salad and a guy walking between tables trying to sell a fake Rolex. Over and over again.

After lunch, we finally arrived at the Borghese Gallery and since we had no reservations, we had to wait for half an hour, which was not that big of a penalty since we had to wait outside, where the grounds are quite nice. Once inside, after a quasi strip search, we finally got to see what we were here for, several masterpieces by our friend Bernini and other masters. We took a while to admire the details in Bernini’s statues such as Apollo and Daphne, Pluto and Proserpina and his version of David. I often wonder why Michelangelo is considered to be the greatest sculptor who ever lived. Not that I don’t like him, au contraire, but I think Bernini’s work is comparable to his and often better. It’s my opinion; I don’t want to start a debate over this!

Anyway, by the time we got out of the Borghese Gallery, which by the way, really is a must-see in Rome, it was mid-afternoon. We looked at the map and established that by walking through the Borghese Gardens, we would more or less get back to Piazza del Popolo. And that was all good because we still wanted to check out the inside of the Twin Churches that we had missed three days before. So we did. The gardens are rather pleasant. Remember, it was a million degrees in Rome all week and walking through a shady park was more than welcome. Plus the park itself is very nice, contains a pond and several interesting statues and fountains in very dramatic settings. We finally reached Piazza del Popolo and were happy to find the Twin Churches opened. We were disappointed, I guess. We were expecting the interior of both churches to match the beauty of their façades, but it’s not the case. Oh well, since our feet still had room for a blister or two, we walked down Via del Corso, my favorite shopping street in Rome. We stopped into two other churches and several stores, including Messaggerie Musicali, a pretty big record store. See, we have a huge CD collection. Huge, I say. And it’s always interesting to see what’s available on the European market that may not yet be in stores back home. We did buy one CD by Paolo Conti, for laughs. Then I realized that I had lost my sunglasses and bought a new pair for 10 euro.

We got home, did our usual shower-dinner-cappuccino thing and went to Piazza Navona. In the early evening light, we fell in love with four small watercolors representing different Roman landmarks. They now hang on a wall in our living room, reminding us each day that we were there and telling us that we must go back.

Day Six: One More Museum​

My notes indicate that we spent some time in Campo dei Fiori that morning. I know that we were trying to find truffles. Of course, truffle time is in the fall, but we thought we could purchase the kind that comes in a jar for much cheaper than the imported ones we find in Canada. The convenience store at one of the corner of Campo dei Fiori called Ruggieri carries them along with tons of things. It’s totally packed in there and you can find great cheeses, oils, sauces, olives etc. We did bring some truffles home and the price was pretty good compared to the fresh one we bought this year in a Toronto specialty store in April (a black truffle).

Anyway, a bit of shopping and we headed towards the Capitoline Museums after a quick stop at Piazza Farnese for a fantastic Proscuitto & fig sandwich. I suppose were we running out of energy that day because it’s the only thing we visited. The location of the museums is great, just behind the Wedding Cake, and the buildings face each other on the magnificent Piazza del Campidoglio, designed by Michelangelo. Of the art that the palazzi contain, I particularly like the many bronzes, including the more famous the she-wolf and Spinario (the kid with a thorn in his foot). Of course, the courtyard also contains really cool stuff like the colossal statue of Marforio (the river god) and several body parts (a nose, a hand, a foot, etc) belonging to the statue of Constantine I, which must have been absolutely gigantic when it was in one piece. At the end of our visit, we reached the rooftop terrace where there is a pretty good view of Rome.

We then took it easy for the rest of the day while still more or less doing some sightseeing, and spending more time in our favorite places. We found our way to Piazza Mattei, where the gracious Fontana delle Tartarughe is located. I don’t have a turtle fetish or anything, but it’s probably my favorite fountain in Rome. We went back to the Trevi Fountain, just because. Actually, I think we went back simply because it’s close to San Crispino and its friendly staff and we wanted to sample more of their out-of-this-world gelato. We came across other fountains, obelisks and columns and once again went to the Trevi Fountain but this time, later in the evening, so we could see what it looks like in a different light. I must say that it’s quite beautiful and as impressive and easier on the eyes than when it’s in full sun and leaves us totally blinded by its bright white surface. One last stop at San Pistachio for yet another cappuccino, then home the usual route. Coffee has no effect on us whatsoever. We slept like babies.

Day Seven: Two Coins in a Fountain​

Our last day in Rome, sigh, and as much as we’re looking forward to the serene beauty of Venice, we wish we could stay here longer. For our first cappuccino, we simply went “next door” at Piazza Farnese and had it at the Caffe Farnese with a great cornetti. We then took a moment to admire the beautiful façade of Palazzo Farnese, which houses the French embassy, and the gigantic bathtub-like fountains in the piazza. Not too far from Piazza Farnese is Palazzo Spada, another magnificent building which contains something I had read about and really wanted to see: Borromini’s Perspective. It’s a passageway in the courtyard of the Pallazzo which is no more than 10 meters long but was designed to appear much longer by the use columns that get progressively shorter and spaced tightly. It’s actually quite beautiful and a triumph of architectural perspective. They also had an exhibit in there, but frankly, we didn’t feel like visiting more museums or galleries on our last day.

We eventually found our way back to the Pantheon and went in one last time because it was early and the place was quiet. That gave us a chance to look at the various tombs in detail, including Raphael’s. Then up the road back to the Trevi Fountain but this time to insure that we would come back to Rome. They say that throwing a coin in the fountain means that you’ll come back. Okay, they say that about many fountains worldwide, but this time, we meant it. Oh, I could have thrown a bucket full of coins in there just to make sure, but I thought one should be enough.

We walked around some more, up and down little streets and eventually found our way back in the San Crispino area. You’ll probably guess what happened next. More gelato. And while we were in the area, how about one last cappuccino at San Pistachio and take advantage of the angle of the sun to photograph the deer head at the top of the church? We also found an amazing little candy shop named Confetteria Moriondo & Gariglio on Via del Pie di Marmo, where everything is hand-made and absolutely beautiful. The shopkeeper only spoke Italian but we still managed to make her understand that we needed to purchase two boxes of candies, which she artfully wrapped for us.

We came home and started to pack and clean up the place before dinner. By the way, we later received an email from RealRome’s Tim Pearson telling us that they had never had visitors leave the place as clean as we did! What can I say, we’re good people.

Alice Twain had sent me a list of restaurant recommendations in Rome and we decided to try one for our last night in Rome. We wanted something “authentic”, not too touristy and fairly inexpensive. Well! We found all three at a wonderful family restaurant called Der Pallero, located not far at all from Campo dei Fiori.

Der Pellaro is the kind of restaurant with no menu. You go in and they simply serve you what they’ve made that day. Dad is the host, Mom cooks and the two kids serve you. We started with several plates containing eight different kinds of appetizers, followed by great creamy tomato rigatoni, veal scallops, dessert (a peach flan), a bottle of house wine and another of mineral water. All for 32 Euro for the two of us! A delicious simple dinner, a great atmosphere, a place to go to over and over again, if only to see what they’ll serve you next.

We were quite full but still had room later that evening for one last gelato stop near the Pantheon, at Cremeria, for their fantastic chocolate mousse. Then it was time for one last goodbye at the glorious Piazza Navona and one last drink in the festival atmosphere of our Campo dei Fiori. Then off to bed fairly early because we had to be up at dusk to catch our train to Venice the next day. What a great week it was…

Day Eight: the Mother of All Vacation Rentals!​

Our train was very early and most places around Campo dei Fiori were closed, so we had a quick cappuccino at Caffe Farnese, like the morning before. We then came back home to pick up our luggage, which was becoming increasingly heavy and rolled it to Via Vittorio Emanuele with great difficulty due to the very uneven surface of the streets in this part of the city. Although this is a large street, finding a taxi at 7am proved to be more difficult than expected. When we finally found one, the driver took us to the train station in no time. Since the Italian train system is so user-friendly, we quickly found our train, got on and waved goodbye to a city we had truly adored. And still do.

The train ride to Venice was pleasant. We even got a very quick glimpse at the Duomo in Florence, where the train stopped for two minutes. We arrived in Venice in late morning, as expected. After a quick phone call to the vacation rental people, we bought a Vaporetto pass, boarded the No.1 and rode down the Grand Canal to San Marco, where we were expected. I must say that the enchantment never dies, whether you go down the Grand Canal for the first time or the 100th time. They don’t call it “the Most Beautiful Street in the World” for nothing.

We met with “Efrem” from the rental place and followed him to the apartment in the extreme heat of the early afternoon sun. All the way there, he pointed out cafés and restaurants to us and even gave us his personal review by adding “this good” or “here no good”!

We got to the apartment, located on Campo SS. Giovanni e Paolo and found out that it was located above a restaurant and that to access it, we had to walk down a narrow aisle that led to the back of it. The interior staircase leading to the third floor was being renovated and we had to navigate between toolboxes piles of wood and ceramic tiles. So far, we were not impressed. Upon opening the door however, we couldn’t believe our eyes! The apartment was bright, vast, clean and simply gorgeous! We had seen a few very small photos on their website, but we were now walking from room to room in awe, in an apartment that was actually bigger than our own! We thought “this is way too big for us”! And it really was. A vast living room, two huge bedrooms, a fully equipped kitchen and a large bathroom with a washing machine. There was a sofa-bed, a microwave oven, two fans, an ironing board and iron, a phone; a TV, a radio, a clothesline and the place had a heavy-duty lock on the door that required us to turn the key four times! The apartment was literally next to Piazza San Marco, just behind the Basilica. For us, it was perfect because we like living in the middle of the action and be centrally located. We couldn’t ask for more. And to this day, based on our experience in Florence and in Rome, we can’t believe how little we paid.

Now, hopefully, this place will remain the best-kept secret in Venice, so don’t tell anyone I told you! If you are looking for a very large apartment in San Marco big enough to sleep seven, check out their website at Venetian Holidays (link to the right).

And off to Venice​

Our visit in Venice was less organized than the one in Rome. We tried to visit Rome one area at a time at the rate of one per day because we were there for six full days only and wanted make the most of it. Venice was different because it’s very compact and it’s a maze, which makes it more difficult to navigate in straight line and visit one area at a time. And for that reason, I cannot continue this report in the same format (day by day) simply because I didn’t take as many notes and the Venetian part of our trip was a lot less planned.

Also, our original trip was supposed to be “one week in Rome and one week in Venice” but when I realized that the weekend of our departure from Venice coincided with the Festa del Redentore, I decided that we should stay two more days to allow us to experience a Venetian festival. Needless to say that staying two extra days made reservations (plane and accommodations) a lot more complicated. So anyway, we arrived in Venice on Saturday and left on the Monday of the following week, which gave us plenty of time to visit many things and also some rest time, which was needed after a week in hectic Rome. The weather was as insanely hot as it had been in Rome the previous week, but the good thing about Venice is that because it’s on the water and the streets are narrow, it makes it easier to find shade in the middle of the afternoon.

There are many things we wanted to see and visit in Venice. And we did. We had already seen San Marco Basilica and came close to visiting again, but the lineups in full sun made us change our minds. We’ll go again, eventually. Ditto for the campanile. We did, however visit several other churches: San Moise, Santa Maria del Giglio, San Vidal, Santa Maria della Visitazione, Santa Maria del Rosario, Santa Maria della Salute, Santa Maria Gloriosa, San Giorgio Maggiore, Il Redentore, San Zaccaria, La Pieta, San Giovanni in Bragora, San Martino, San Pantalon, Santa Maria di Nazareth, San Giovanni e Paolo and Santa Maria Assunta (Gesuiti). There might have been more.

So as you can see, we didn’t just sleep all week. Our visit to Santa Maria della Salute was on Sunday. We crossed the Grand Canal to have a closer look at that big white church that looks so nice from all angles as you approach it by Vaporetto. Strangely, though, the interior left us sort of indifferent even if from the outside, this magnificent Longhena building remains one of the finest sights on the Grand Canal. We walked back towards the Accademia Bridge and got hungry, so we stopped for a rather decent and inexpensive pizza Margherita at the very foot of the bridge. I can’t remember the name of that restaurant, but you can’t miss it.

Venice is full of little pleasures. Little things we experience, out of the blue, that gives you the most wonderful memories. Like a stroll in Piazza San Marco at 6am so you have it all to yourself. Or watching young kids feeding the pigeons. Seeing the cleaning crews at dusk, methodically sweeping the narrow Calle. Turning a corner and unexpectedly finding a dead-end or an extraordinary photo opportunity. Hearing an amateur opera singer entertaining a crowd in the corner of a Campo near the Scuola di San Rocco, which had amazing acoustics. I adore Venice also because in spite of its huge crowds of tourists, it still gives us a sense of peacefulness. It’s as if everything works in slow motion.

More Glass​

We decided to go visit Burano and Murano (in that order) on Tuesday. Burano was simply enchanting. We arrived very early in the morning and spent about an hour exploring the island. I had read some stuff about its colorful little houses but it really, really is beautiful in person, like a scene from a fairytale. Unfortunately, this was the only cloudy morning of our entire vacation. I say “unfortunately” because with a blue sky as a background, that little jewel of a place must be even more beautiful. Regardless, we were able to take some pretty good pictures. We were not planning on spending a month there and the island was barely awake so we took a Vaporetto to Murano.

In Venice itself, it’s hard to walk two feet without finding a store that sells Murano Glass and somehow, I had thought that Murano would have better stuff to offer. Wrong. We basically found the same assortment of cheap ashtrays and animal-shaped figurines. We were looking for something specific: a glass lampshade, which we eventually bought in Venice for cheaper that it would have been in Murano. By noon, it was so hot and we were so uninspired by the place that we didn’t bother visiting the glass museum or whatever else the island has to offer. We returned to Venice thinking that Burano would definitely be worth another look some day, and that we would rather visit Torcello that come back to Murano.

A great experience. Or two.​

The next day we decided to take the Vaporetto to the island of San Giorgio Maggiore. Since the church itself is so spectacular to look at from the other side of the canal, it might be worth a look, we thought. And we were right. Arguably the most beautiful of Palladio’s work, the church boasts the treasures of works by Tintoretto. We were not overly familiar with his work but were about to have a close encounter with one of his work! After viewing the church, we took the elevator to the campanile. Although we had been to the top of San Marco’s campanile the year before, this one was more interesting because we could actually see Venice much better. So we took some great shots and on the way down, we asked the elevator attendant, a monk, if they sold postal cards. He hesitated for a few seconds, looked at the 3-4 people who were waiting for the elevator and said, in pretty good English “wait for me here, I’ll take these people up and I’ll come back”.

So after a couple of minutes, he came back and said “follow me”. He took us to another room where he sold us a few postcards, out of a rather sad selection. Then, he turned to us and said “would you like to see the last Tintoretto?”. We nodded and followed him up a very narrow spiral staircase to a door that seemed hard to open. It opened on a large room which contained practically nothing, where hung Tintoretto’s “Deposition”. Our friend then said “take all the time you need and please make sure the door is locked when you leave”. So here we were, facing a great painting, totally alone in this room. I later found out that the room is the nocturnal monks choir room and that its access is limited and usually requires an appointment. Needless to say that we felt totally privileged!

Too bad this didn’t happen to us at the Sistine Chapel!

But another cool experience was waiting for us next door. Well, not literally next door, but nearby, at the equally beautiful Chiesa del Redentore, another Palladio masterpiece. It was early and we were the only two visitors there. The church itself is quite beautiful with its white facade and the interior is simple and austere. It contains art by artist I must confess knowing nothing about, such as Vivarini, Bastioni and Jacopo da Bassano. I mean, I had to look it up just now! Anyway, at the door, we were told that the sacristy was open to visitors. Once we toured the church, we headed towards the sacristy and were met by two young girls. Our guides! They were probably art students who were offered a summer job or simply volunteer workers and I suspect they were not even Italians, but possibly Dutch or something. In any case, they offered us a tour of the sacristy, explaining each piece as well as they could, including the delightfully creepy wax heads, getting help from one another if they weren’t sure about a word. They took their job seriously despite their shyness, and were absolutely adorable.

So basically, within a few hours we had been given sole access to a 16th century masterpiece and given an impromptu private tour of a great art collection and an assortment of wax heads! It was a good day.

To The Lido and Back​

We decided to go to the Lido the next day, I think. So we left pretty early, took the Vaporetto from San Marco and were there in no time. The Lido doesn’t have the same feel as Venice. Not even close. It feels like being at any luxury beach resort on the American east coast. At least, that was our first impression. After walking towards nothing in particular, we realized that it was the first time in days that we hadn’t seen a car! Strange, how we can get used to Venice’s transit system.

Anyway, we decided to follow a sign that was inviting us to rent bikes for the day. We thought hey, that could be fun. So we rented a couple of old bikes for half a day, for next to nothing. We looked at our map and said “that way.” After about an hour of riding, we stopped at some restaurant/beach bar for a drink and sat in the shade, on the patio facing the beach and the sea. The beach was quiet. For some reason, after our drink we decided to return our bikes to the rental place and head back to Venice! I don’t know what it is; the Lido simply did not fascinate us. I suppose it’s really cool during the Film Festival, but somehow, we thought Venice was a lot more interesting to visit.

After a quick bite near the famous Hôtel des Bains, we took the Vaporetto back to San Marco, stopped at the apartment to freshen up and went to see San Pantalon (which of course we nicknamed “Saint Pants”) to admire it’s incredible ceiling and then decided to visit a Palazzo. We had seen signs about Ca' Rezzonico, “the 18th century Venice Museum” and had passed by it many times. It’s actually worth a visit. It’s quite sumptuous and grand. The art collection is also impressive, although once again, I must confess not being familiar with many artists such as Guardi, Canaletto, Longhi and others.

We spent the rest of the day walking around, before ending up at San Marco like every evening, to check out the orchestra battle and have a last gelato. We didn’t stay up too late (for us, that means 12:30 am!), because we had a little day trip planned for the next day.

Verona, Of Course​

We headed towards Santa Lucia to catch a train to Verona, which took us there in roughly half an hour. Outside the train station, we started to walk and came across a ticket booth where we bought a “combo” ticket giving us access to three churches that are not even located in the same area. We did manage to find and visit all three: Chiesa San Lorenzo, Chiesa di S.Fermo and of course, the stunning Basilica de San Zeno (Duomo).

We found Verona to be a beautiful and charming city, reminiscent of a mini-Florence, and noticed that the tourists were mostly from surrounding countries (France, Germany and Austria). We took a long stroll through its streets and stopped at several points of interest, including the Arena, which is remarkably well preserved comparing to Rome’s Coliseum. Piazza Brà, located right next to the Arena, was very busy with tourists and people trying to buy tickets for that night’s opera.

We then found the Juliet’s House. Of course, a stop there is inevitable. We didn’t take the full tour but still took the time to check out the balcony and the graffiti walls. It’s actually quite romantic, considering that this is the fictional house of a fictional character...

We stayed long enough to see a few people having their photo taken next to the life-size Juliet bronze whose left breast is possibly the most rubbed in the world.


Another fine public place is Piazza Erbe, adjacent to Piazza dei Signori. Similar to Rome’s Piazza Navona for it’s shape, it’s surrounded by restaurants, shops and a few imposing and historical buildings such as Palazza Maffei and Palazzo della Ragione. We went up the Torre dei Lamberti, which dominates the Piazza and got a fantastic view of the city and the surroundings. Great photo opportunity! Later on, we took a quick tour of the gigantic and austere Castelvecchio, located right next to the remarkable bridge of the same name. Exhausted, we headed back to Piazza Erbe in the early evening, where we had superb pizza and local beer on a busy patio before catching our train back to our beloved Venice. Over all, we were very pleased with our day trip to Verona and would definitely go back to explore and enjoy it further.

Il Fiesta del Redentore​

On Saturday, Venice was setting the stage for the annual Fiesta del Redentore. As I mentioned earlier, this was, the reason why we stayed a couple more days (as if we NEEDED a reason to stay longer!). We wanted to witness a Venetian festival and even if it’s not as glamorous as the Carnival in February, it was still a cool experience.

The festival takes place on the third weekend of July every year and is held to commemorate the end of the Plague that tormented the city in the late 1500’s. The Senate had decided to erect a church dedicated to the redeemer (Redentore) in return for help in ending the Plague. A similar story is linked to the construction of Santa Maria della Salute. Different events are organized during the weekend and a temporary bridge is built between Zattere and the Giudecca across the Giudecca Canal. The bridge is like this long floating structure designed to look like an alignment of barges. Walking on it is slightly awkward but still allows you to reach Il Redentore where you can still see locals and visitors pray.

In the afternoon, Saint Mark’s basin starts to fill up with boats of all kinds, many decorated for the occasion, in preparation for the evening’s fireworks. On land, everyone tries to get as good a spot as possible to view the show, rapidly packing Riva dei Schiavoni. We were able to climb on the edge of the Information booth located near the Vaporetto stop so we could be above the crowd. From what we could make out, the fireworks are located on or near the island of San Giorgio, which of course gives the whole spectacle a really beautiful backdrop, especially since the whole thing takes place on water. And what fireworks! It started at 10 p.m. and lasted for nearly an hour. Afterwards, Piazza San Marco was very crowded for a while and the Campanile was shining brightly, illuminated for the occasion. It was a magical evening. Apparently, the party goes on for a while at the Lido and in other parts of the city, but we decided to head home early.

Going Home, Well Not Yet...​

The next day, was for last minute shopping and more walking. We only had one full day left in this enchanting city and we wanted to enjoy it some more before packing. We explored San Polo some more, walked around the Rialto and went back to our favorite shopping street in Venice, Strada Nova, which is often overlooked in travel books. We also went to visit the remarkable Church of Santa Maria Assunta (Gesuiti) and came back towards San Marco, the Piazza that was our “last stop” every night for 9 days. It was time to go home and pack. Sigh.

In the morning, we went back to San Marco Piazza around 6:30 am for one last look. There were no more than five people and a dozen pigeons. At any time of day, Piazza San Marco is absolutely magnificent, but this early in the morning, it’s really peaceful and wonderful.

We managed to find a place for coffee and then went home to retrieve our luggage, considerably heavier than it was when we arrived. The water-shuttle to Marco Polo Airport was an easy ride, and much less complicated than taking a bus. I took look at the plane tickets.


I read the tickets again and again: “flight 1127 departing at “10:10am”. All along, for some reason, I had in the head that it was “flight 1010” departing at “11:27am”! It was already too late! We were heading for the airport and our plane had already left!!

Dying of embarrassment, I told my partner about it. He reassured me and said that maybe there was another flight we could catch later in the day. So we got off the boat and ran to the Air France counter, holding on the slim hope that the flight would be delayed. Not a chance. The attendant told us that the next one would be on the next day. We look at each other and came to the conclusion that we would have to stay one more day. Ironically, the previous year, we had been in the same situation after mission our returning flight in Paris due to the tight connection time between flights and had been “forced” to stay in Paris for 24 hours. Don’t you hate what that happens? Of course, we took full advantage of the incident and ended up having a wonderful time in the City of Lights, while Air France took care of our expenses.

This time was different. It was our fault (well, mine!) and we were in…Mestre! Returning to Venice would have been silly, as tempting as it was. So we decided to stay at a hotel near the airport. Inexpensive, yes, but in Mestre! There was no way we were not going to turn this around and make the best of it! We asked the attendant if she could suggest a hotel nearby and after a quick phone call, she told us that the Titian Inn had room for us. It’s your typical airport hotel, very basic but clean and affordable. We quickly found the bus, checked in, and looked at the map to see what our options were.

Padova It Is!​

Less then 25 kilometers away, Pavoda was waiting for us. We got ready, went to the bus station where finding the right bus was a bit of an ordeal. Two bus drivers were arguing in Italian while we were in line and sounded as though they were not sure what their routes were. We ended up on a bus that took a one-hour detour before finally arriving in Padova.

The star attraction of the city of Padova is no doubt the Scrovegni Chapel, but since we only had a few hours to enjoy the city and no reservations anyway, we decided to skip it. Also, I think at this point we were so tired that we were not in the mood. We did however enjoy our visit at the massive Basilica di Sant’Antonio, with its Byzantine domes. There we saw hundreds of pilgrims come to pray to Saint Anthony whose tomb is kept here. It is very moving. Much more so that the enormous gift shop!

It was at least a million degrees in Padova and after the Basilica, all we wanted to do was sit down, write post cards and drink gallons of water, which we did just across the street on a patio. After half an hour of that, we continued and ended up in Prato della Valle, a magnificent park. Some travel guides say it’s the largest public square in Europe. Having been through it, I would rather call it a park, not a piazza, but hey. It’s absolutely massive, has canals and bridges and most importantly, 80 or so statues of famous men arranged around the oval shaped park. It’s truly outstanding! The problem was the heat! The heat! It’s impossible to find any shade anywhere in mid afternoon and the sun quickly drained all the energy out of us and as beautiful as our surroundings were, we could no longer stay there.

We walked some more without much enthusiasm and found a place where we stopped for a very early dinner, as we wanted to get some rest and make it to the airport on time the next day. We came across what I suppose is considered fast food in Italy, only much better. It’s called Pizza Art on Via Arenula and offers a pretty good selection of pizza. Ours was covered with buffalo mozzarella and a generous mountain of arugula. After dinner, we walked back to the hotel but stopped in an Enoteca first to buy a liter of red wine (Burgundy) to have with some Ricotta pies we had purchased earlier. Not that we were hungry or anything, but why not indulge one last time, right? The wine was great but we were simply too tired to enjoy it fully. We slept for a few hours before catching the bus to the airport, where we arrived on time!

Final Surprise​

One last surprise.

The flight to Paris was quick and uneventful. In the City of Lights, we had some time to check out the airport shops and have a quick coffee before boarding. We then stood in line for a few minutes and when we presented our boarding passes, we heard the six words anyone about to spend several hours on an airplane wants to hear: “You were upgraded to First Class”! We couldn’t believe it and practically hugged the attendant as we thanked her profusely in English and in French.

I must say that our first experience in First Class was fabulous. The food was spectacular, the wines better than we expected and the seat were incredibly comfortable, just perfect for a long-distance flight. I would definitively fly First-Class again, but am never able to justify the huge difference in price with Coach. I mean, instead of spending thousands of dollars on a ticket, why not keep that money and spend it on great dinners and souvenirs?

So now what?

Well, we are now back in Toronto and have been for two years. Our heads are still full of memory and not a day goes by without a mention of something Italian! Our Italian experiences have opened up our minds in more ways than one. We have incorporated little Italian things in our every day life and our Italian cooking is better than ever, thanks to our newfound appreciation of certain ingredients. We are getting married in April 2006. We still haven’t started planning the honeymoon, which will probably be somewhere south, like Mexico. I guess we chose Mexico because it’s much more affordable, but who knows, there could also be another Italian trip on the horizon for us…!

Spero così…!


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